Sunday, September 27, 2009

Who's Art is it Anyway?



I am a great believer in copyright, but sometimes things get fuzzy, especially when it comes to photography and the use of photo reference. It's not a problem for me, most of the time, as I use my own photo's & imagination, with exceptions of looking up anatomical details, proportions and other factual matter.
I've been on two weeks holidays, and I took a lot of pictures (300+), most of them purely awful photographs, but potentially useful as reference. Since I don't paint in any kind of photo-real mode, I don't require a bang up awesome photo to start with, just something to jog the memory and give me the basic facts but it's a load of boring repetive trees, rocks, and waves to slog through.
One of the potential paintings (I have enough ideas to keep me going for months) is a 'standing stone' (not shown). I've actually wanted to do a series of stones in their environment, but this one certainly didn't arrive in it's position naturally; when I do a painting, based on my photograph, who's art will it be?
Here's another one. And nope, no painting planned for this one. In this case, the 'art' is obvious. If you want to see it, you need to walk the Chickanishing Trail in Killarney Provincial Park. It's at the furthest point on the trail, and you need to walk the shore at the wave-line to see it (look backwards). I'm not sure if the 'leaf' will last the winter as it's peeling. Unlike graffiti, which I find jarring, I found this surprise to be quite beautiful, and enhancing. It is in harmony with the surroundings. In this case, I simply would not do a painting as this is a work of art.
On the other hand, in the case of the standing stone, I consider an unfinished inukshuk to be fair game to the artists eye.
Nothing is ever quite black and white.
If anyone knows the artist to be given credit to this maple leaf, I will gladly do so. Thanks 'anonymous' for a spot of beauty & insight on the rocks.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Practice, Practice, Practice-with Andrew Loomis

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This is the first year I’ll be taking ‘homework’ along for my holidays.  Of course I always travel with at least paper & pen, plus my trust M500 Palm (monochrome screen!) & keyboard for writing, but this year I’m taking things up a notch.

I’ve only recently discovered the art instruction books by Andrew Loomis, currently easily available on the internet. Back in the days when I went to art college, teaching technique was out of favour.  It was sincerely believed that the best arts education was one that encouraged experimentation and self discovery. Many thrived under this sort of tutelage; I was not one of them.  While I spent many hours drawing from life, my lack of a fundamental understanding of the human body was a constant barrier to progress.

Fast forward to today.  My instant thought upon seeing the Andrew Loomis book, Figure Drawing for All Its Worth was “Where were you when I needed you?” but it is never too late for improvements. While there are quite a number of topic specific books I’ve decided to begin with this one, as,  being human myself, figure drawing seems to be good place to start.  While I love to draw and paint expressively and far from the realm of the photo realists, there is nothing more distracting to the viewer than ungainly distortions due to poor technique.  Since I view art as primarily a vehicle for expression, technical improvements are a must.

And so I begin the exercises.  Loomis’ book strongly encourages memorization of some fundamental principles.  One of them is the ability to draw a ‘manikin frame’ in proportion, from memory.  That means plenty of weird and unlovely skeletal sketches, over and over again until I get it right.  Next is a series of memorizations of basic points on the body that, when outlined, will hint at bulk and major muscle groups.  And last (this is as far as I got in my perusals) is to memorize and practice until one can accurately draw all the major muscle groups of the body.  Thus, I have plenty of homework to do. 

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Lucky me, I really enjoy sketching on office paper, and I am armed with my absolutely favourite sketching pencil, which is a Prismacolor Expresso (that’s the colour name).  It goes on rich and buttery, has pleasant mellow darks, and delivers varied line widths far beyond regular graphite.  I’m almost looking forward to this.

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Hopefully, by the end (there’s never really an end to practice, but anyway) I’ll have improved my life drawing skills and developed an ability to draw people expressively without reference.  This would a huge leap in artistic freedom.

Here’s a place that offers the Andrew Loomis books for download.  I recommend printing them into hard copy so they can be properly studied.

Images: all 8x10 office paper & expresso Prismacolor. Top: preliminary ‘quick’ sketch for dog portrait.  Next too, some basic manikin practice without reference.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Superior Waves and Summers End

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Holidays are coming, a joy we always reserve for summers end.  By the time we return, it will be Autumn, both officially and and seasonally.  While we enjoy sunshine, and moderate warmth, we also enjoy cool weather and waves smashing on rocks.  To get to such things, we travel the Trans Canada Hwy 17 through Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie north to Lake Superior Provincial Park.  While I only see it once per year, this landscape is never far from my mind, and I often find myself roaming there in thoughts and dreams.  Lake Superior has a pull and a power that goes far beyond the physical realm.  This is a place where a Christian can believe in the power Nanaboozhoo, and an atheist feels compelled to make offerings to Gods.  It is hard when under it’s spell not to believe in spirits of the earth, the air, and especially water, as all things on the coast are shaped by the power of the lake.

I’ve done some strange things that leave lasting memories, like one midnight were I sat on a stone beach and scraped a sign into a stone and with it tossed a part of my soul into Superiors waters.  Ever since, I’ve felt like a piece of me was left behind, and whatever the distance my connection to this place remains unbroken. That this defies logic makes no difference; there is no place for logic in dreams and imaginings.

Image: Top.  4x6” wave study, watercolour using masking frisket resist, overpainted with fine sand & matt acrylic gel, finished with colour pencil. 

Below: linocut print T-shirts all drying in the sun so that they will be ready to wear ‘up North’. Distortions due to draping. (letterboxes, scroll carefully and stop at the first hint of blue if you don’t want a spoiler of the Voyageur letterbox image).  As you can see from the motifs, Lake Superior is never far from my mind.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Something Old, Something New



***Spoiler Alert--for letterboxers planning on visiting "Voyageur" letterbox, north of Sault Ste. Marie. Last image is a 5x7 version of my Voyageur stamp done as a linocut, the wolf is not a letterbox***

Yipes, more than a week has gone by without a blogpost. I hate to squeeze one in just for the heck of it but I've been busy, mostly fighting (as usual, we and it don't get along) with watercolours. I'm still trying to master the wet-in-wash, probably a lifetime battle if I refuse to give up, so I decided to take a break and finish a project I've had in my minds eye for quite some time.
My Voyageur stamp (2.5x3.5) is one of my favourite letterbox images, but I love it so much I was loath to attempt to repeat the performance in larger format. The lure of trying it out as a lovely t-shirt, just in time for my next visit north of the Sault, finally forced my hand. Because I don't get much satisfaction from copying old work, I decided to work on a brand new design at the same time.
For the Voyageur, I used my scanner to enlarge the design as I was definitely thrilled with the ACEO-sized version. The real challenge was to maintain the life of the quick cut original while adding detail appropriate for the enlarged format. I confess, I really took my time on this one as I was afraid to screw things up.
As for the wolf, this one began with a rough sketch, then a clean sketch & transfer onto what I thought was softoleum from my storage box, but turned out to be softer stuff (argh...can't wait to finish this batch off). It didn't have good feel, and my nib needs replacing so some of the pleasures of carving were thus diminished. Luckilly I pulled a proof long before I carved back to the pencilled detailed I'd planned. It's good to be vague and let the viewer fill in the blanks, and to let the rhythms of the cuts set the mood.
While I've always been a little leery of doing animal art of creatures that I've never seen, last years holiday produced two wolf sightings, the first wild wolves I've ever seen. The first was on HWY 17 in Lake Superior Provincial Park. It was a skinny scrappy brown wolf that looked lost and starved. Sadly, I do not believe this was a well wolf. Later, we were treated to the lovely rear view of a healthy running wolf that for a short time kept pace ahead of our slow moving vehicle as we headed into Gargantua Harbour on a rough dirt road.
Obviously, this linocut harkens back to neither of these glimpses, but at least I can legitimately say that I have seen a wolf in the wild. In truth, this wolf most resembles one the Toronto Zoo wolves on the day that the dominant male got up (they mostly sleep in zoos), ambled over to the edge of the fence and really, really looked at me. It was a little unnerving as that golden gaze seemed possessed of an intellect that was both superior and utterly alien--a gaze that is forever engraved in my mind.
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